Monthly Archives: September 2010


I'm not going to be one of those people who gets all defensive about the biggest perk we have in our profession. Classroom teachers are lucky - the holidays we get are much more than most workers get and in my case with a young family and a wife who is also a teacher, the fact that my holidays align with my boys' time off help me to be a better father and husband. I feel like I work hard and that these breaks help to balance life out and it's not like I do nothing work related at all during the time off.

We have a fortnight's break right now and it has helped me to get on top of a nasty virus that knocked me down in the final week of term. My youngest has had a friend over for the afternoon and it has been great to potter around and casually participate in their activities and conversations. Tomorrow morning we are going to get up early to be down to Woodville Bowl to get in a few $6 games before their special ends at 10.30 am. Next week, we are going to pack a picnic lunch and head up to Belair National Park for the day. I am lucky. Other people have their kids in Vacation Care programs or farmed out to grandparents during this fortnight. Even if it is as boring and mundane as popping out to buy a new pair of shoes or heading out to Hungry Jack's for lunch, this is stuff that I can enjoy - being an integral and visible part of my kids' life.



I enjoy Lisa Neilsen's blog but worry when I read words like this:

There is less tolerance for educators who do not believe it is their responsibility to move their teaching out of the past. Those stuck in the past... those who are not developing their own personal learning networks... those not taking ownership for their learning... are doing a great disservice to our students and themselves. In the words of leadership expert Jim Collins, these are the people that those who care about student success may want to advise to just get off the bus.

Not that I disagree with the sentiments but its tone is hardly encouraging to educators who are still tentative in their overall use of technology. What was that old saying about honey and vinegar?

Especially when teaching has become an increasingly complex job. I like to use the metaphor of a juggler with my colleagues, recognising that they already have a number of important balls in the air that they need to keep in motion. To take on a new ball, something needs to be done about the ones already airborne - either by taking one out of action or lessening the impact if it gets dropped.

Adapted from this image -

Adapted from this image -

Telling my colleagues they shouldn't be in the job just because their technology ball isn't whizzing around at the same intensity as the others is not fair and is as tunnel visioned as those who would judge teacher's prowess on their students' test scores.


I am now into my sixth year of writing here on this blog. I don't write here as often as I would like but it still gets me writing much more often than I did pre-2005. I think the last time I wrote as much was back in teacher's college. My lecturer, Mem Fox, got us all to keep a journal. Not one that she would read but one she wanted us to use with regularity, to get into the habit of writing, to start to hear my own voice coming through the writing. I really got into it back then. When I was stuck for things to write about, I wrote out the lyrics of songs that I felt were speaking to me at the time. When I got married and moved back to Adelaide, I found that journal again when we moved into our house. I read some of it but the rawness and the angst was too much for me and I threw it into the rubbish bin. A bit of a shame but it goes to show that the compulsion to write is a hard one to shake.

The other day, one of my colleagues admitted to me that he hates writing. My first reaction was to think that it was odd that he ended up being a teacher, considering that reports need to be written, students need to be taught how to write and you can't land a job without a written application. I suppose that I'm lucky in that regard - I enjoy writing. It's not a hardship - it is fun.

I often read about the "edublogosphere" - the name used to describe this swarming mass of educators who've discovered the power of writing and sharing online. It does feel like that there are much less than six degrees of separation between many of us but it's a bit like looking up at the night sky and thinking that I can see all the stars that exist. My Google Reader only captures a selective sample of collective wisdom and finding a new blogger with the same love of writing is a real spark. New is a relative word here - someone new to me may have been blogging as long as I have, with their own ecosystem of networked commenters and subscribers well before I lucked into their writing.

John Spencer is a writer I can relate to. He's more a writer than a blogger and I'm part way through his book, Teaching Unmasked. I found him via Michael Doyle, who I found via Clay Burell, who ... well,  I can't even remember how I connected with Clay any more. John is an honest, open breath of fresh air and he touches on ideas that resonate with the part of me that is a still a classroom teacher. And the writing .... well, it makes me nod my head in agreement ¹, it makes me cringe when the story holds up a mirror to my own practice ² and then a nugget of new insight will burrow back into the recesses of my brain and make a cameo appearance in my consciousness at a totally unforseen but entirely appropriate moment ³.

¹ It's not that students are tired of learning at the end of the year.  It's that they're tired of school.

² I ripped into students who made mistakes or who were acting "lazy" when in fact they were scared or confused or bored.  But the good news is that there's a solution.  Apologize.  Humbly admit that you've been a hardass and watch how people respond.

³ On an intellectual level, I wonder if I hold on too tightly to ideas.

So if you haven't added a new voice to your Reader, and you're longing to hear from someone who doesn't just focus on the highlights, who isn't obsessed with redesigning education from the ground up except for in his own classroom and can say things better than I can, head over to John's blog. Don't say I sent you because apart from a couple of comments, he won't have a clue who I am.


I've been scouring YouTube for documentaries to be part of our current inquiry unit for the classroom "What Are You Listening To?" One of the key understandings is Music is an industry and in that search I've been watching a number of promising clips from the Classic Albums television series (which aired on SBS here down under a few years back). I found an episode that is about the making of Pink Floyd's classic album Dark Side Of The Moon, and a quote from Roger Waters talking about his thinking when composing the lyrics for the song "Time" is applicable to anyone interested in the process of learning - and living.

I suddenly realised then that year that life was already happening. I think it's 'cos my mother was so obsessed with education and the idea that childhood and adolescence and well, everything was about preparing for a life that was gonna start later. And I suddenly realised that life wasn't going to start later, that it'd, you know, it starts at ... and it happens all the time and at any point you can grasp the reins and start guiding your own destiny. And that was a big revelation to me. I mean, it came as quite a shock.


I was in a Year 1/2 classroom this morning working with a teacher new to our school. The kids had netbooks out and the teacher wrote up some website addresses on the whiteboard with interactive content about the Water Cycle that she wanted the students to visit and use. Being seven and eight year olds, there was a strong possibility that entering these sites successfully into the browser would be a tricky task. My quickfire solution was to open a Word document, paste in the two sites, press enter to make them links and then save that file in an easy to access folder on the network. I then informed the class where to go to find the file - hopefully creating an easier pathway.

However, I don't think that this is a very good solution and so now I'm appealing to the collective wisdom of this blog's readers. How would you create a way for young students to get easily onto teacher curated collections of websites? I'm thinking that even a delicious tag might be too confusing for this age group - but maybe a class blog that they become familiar with that puts these websites into a blogroll or page. But, you guys are smarter than me. What do you think?

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Unfortunately, I chose a seat right in the centre of the semi-circle of chairs directly opposite the three Ghanaian drummers who were about to lead our session on TeamBeat. I could feel the hot flush of embarrassment as we were invited to grab a personal drum for the session. My stomach knotted, I felt the pain of self-consciousness and the clock slowed down in slow motion as I realised we were expected to drum, move and dance throughout this session. All of a sudden, my most hated experience in a PD session where a yoga guru led us down a relaxing grassy pathway to a babbling brook (funny how something that is supposed to make people feel at peace makes me tense and unwilling to participate) seemed to be a preferable option. After all when everyone else shuts their eyes in a relaxation session, no one really knows if I'm actually doing the slow breathing and the deliberate relaxing of muscles.

And it was as bad as I feared. These guys were good and everyone was enjoying themselves, but I couldn't coordinate my hands to the demonstrated beat, lifted my left hand when others raised their right in unison, my rhythm always a step or to behind everyone else. I felt another pang of uselessness every time our enthused instructor raised the stakes with a more complex pattern - me being right in his line of sight. One staff member excused himself early to go to an appointment. I wished I was him.

So this is what things are like for many kids in classrooms today. My classroom in all probability. Kids feeling completely lost, hoping like hell that their teacher isn't going to ask them to do anything public and expose their shortcomings. Kids watching the clock, not because they hate learning, but what they are being asked to do is way beyond their comfort level exposing their greatest weaknesses to the scrutiny of their peers. Like me today, they try to lighten the mood with a few witty self-deprecating comments to mask their real fear. It still doesn't make things easier.

I'm not going to say that I'm glad that I had to attend and participate today. That would be a lie. If I had known what was in store for me, regardless of the talented guys leading the way, I would still try and find a way to dodge out of it. But that feeling, that feeling like a kangaroo in the headlights, that feeling of struggling to keep one's head above water, that feeling that many students face on a daily basis in the classroom when I'm the teacher in charge....

.... that feeling is worth remembering.

My posting here is threatening to fall off the wagon so I'll just post a few random notes here about things I've been noting of late.

New Buildings
Our new library and classroom block are now open for business. We will start moving the students into their new surrounds throughout this week in a staggered fashion, as we work out what resources will make the journey from the old to the new. I'm super impressed with how the technology has panned out and the AV specialist who walked me through all the options when the buildings were still shells has done a great job. We have four classrooms, two adjoin each other with a portable wall separating the two (if needed) a new teacher prep area (never had one of those before) and a shared open learning area that has been titled the Aula. Each room has a short throw projector on one half of the low sheen whiteboard (not interactive), ceiling speakers - any AV device can be attached and controlled by the projector remote - even my iPhone's music list! We have one IWB in the Aula which means that it will be best used for student small group activities or collaborations. I'm looking forward to teaching in this gift from the Rudd government - it may be the only time in my teaching career that I'll have the opportunity to work in a brand new, never been used before building.

Gary Stager & The Middle Schooling Conference
Gary has been mentioned as a must see education presenters by many people who I read. So I made sure that I was in the front row when the opportunity arose. His reputation is well deserved and he kept me engaged for both his ninety minute presentation and his closing keynote. He whips through topics and points at a frenetic pace and probably needed a lot more time to really unpack his whole presentation. Everything he says is thought provoking and he is unashamedly controversial. I have my notes tucked away and need to re-read them and reflect on them in a future blog post to do them full justice. So, even though I also got a lot out of Erica McWilliam's presentation, it is Gary's point of view that presents the most challenge to the way I conduct my job.

Lego Ebay Addiction
My youngest son has discovered Star Wars and is now a connoisseur of the licensed Lego products. He bought a couple of sets with his birthday money and I hunted a few second hand sets on Ebay to get him started. Now it has become a bit of an obsessive hobby on my part as we both research on the Brickipedia for the best sets to add to my Watch List. There are many resources on the web to ensure that what people are offering for sale is what we might be interested on including LUGNET and GalaxyBricks. My frugal German ancestry is coming in handy as I'm only bidding for items at very low prices, constantly being beaten in the final few minutes of an auction by someone prepared to shell out more $A than me. (Although I did score a new Boba Fett's Slave I set for $50 less than down at Target in a surprising result.) Anyone wanting to offload excess Star Wars Lego might have a willing buyer here! It is something fun to do with my son - I think the next step is to work on creating some stop motion clips together. It could be my project for Ewan's 100 Hour Challenge.


Dear Tim, Angelita, Megan, Matt, Sherine and Alexa,

During the last month you guys have all dropped me flattering emails, telling me how much you love Open Educator and how this is one of the greatest edtech blogs going around. It's nice when readers reach out to make contact and I've done the same myself when I wanted to say something that wasn't really right for the comments section of a blog.

Your sincerity is touching:

I had come across your site before and when I had this offer come about, I knew I wanted to get in touch with you.

I recently discovered your blog, and I must say that yours has caught my attention.

However, it doesn't take you guys long to cut to the real reason for your unexpected correspondence:

… hoping is that you can perhaps post a blog about (insert generic reference to Online Education) or if we could be featured in some way, any way.

... if you would be interested in a guest post opportunity on your blog. I just ask for a link back to my blog in the by-line.

Coincidentally, we recently published an article entitled (insert generic reference to Online Education) that I believe would draw considerable interest from your readers. If you are interested in sharing with them, then feel free to do so. Here's the link for your convenience.

I currently have a press release related to education and teacher reform that could possibly develop into a piece for your website.

Maybe you guys are all genuine and think that it would be a real boost to this humble blog for your content or service to be featured. However, even though I don't offer a lot here to the wider education community, what I do offer here is genuine and is of my own creation. I can never know for sure but I think my readers subscribe because they value this blog as a place to get my unique viewpoint, to read my raw and sometimes naive reflections and hopefully turn up a nugget of insight that informs or provokes further thought and reflection. I am indebted to my commenters who, with the exception of Mr. Nike-shoes and Ms. Realty-investments, are all educators who respond selflessly to add to the conversation.

So, to perfectly clear, in case you have a unique article, service or link that you think would be indispensable for my readers and think that we actual edubloggers can't ascertain when we are all being bombarded with the same stuff in our in-box, ....

... don't bother.

P.S. Perhaps you guys would be better off developing more of those fancy infographics that everyone seems to be in love with of late. They stand a better chance than trying to get me to plug your wares.

Our new BER funded library and classrooms are nearly ready. It has been interesting and exciting to watch them be built, then painted and furbished and go from shells and frameworks to spaces that you can visualise in action. So, there has been quite a bit of talk around learning spaces and re-imagining how we might go about the business of teaching and learning.

I was fortunate enough to go to a recent symposium hosted by iNet that featured Sharon Wright from Creative Wit. She talked at length about the various efforts in the UK to transform their schools and it was interesting to mentally tick the boxes as she outlined driving factors in the change process and how learning spaces were being designed or altered to cater for contemporary learning needs.

So add in the thought provoking ideas laid out by Ewan McIntosh in last week's MasterClass, and I'm trying to work out how I will personally operate in a new learning space. The concept of the classroom as a studio has been written about Clarence Fisher in the past and it is a challenge to get the balance right between whole class instruction, independent project or inquiry work, group discussion and helping individuals grapple with new understandings or knowledge. I know the underlying structures and practice we have at this school are all lined up to make the most of a new collaborative learning space - but any change from the status quo (in this case from my current individual classroom in an old transportable building) to a new environment challenges me to re-imagine how things could be, how new or improved opportunities for my students can open up.

I'm looking forward to it and working with a keen team of fellow educators means that we are re-purposing this new space for our students together.


Projectors going into our new classrooms.